Category: On the Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ by St. Maximus th

Communal thoughts

by Andrea Elizabeth

I hear that dwelling on Communion helps the mind transcend earthly cares. Creation as symbols as well as thankfulness spontaneously appear unbidden.

The silent world enables hymns of angels to occupy the mind. Prayer consists of the names and faces of others last remembered. May God have mercy on their souls.

Recapitulation, Deification, and the Virtues

by Andrea Elizabeth

“In the unfallen mode (tropos) of being the lives of humans were destined for deification (theosis, divinization). This is the most intimate possible communion between the human and God, in which the human participates in the Love of the Trinity, through the Son, in the Glory of the Holy Spirit. Here all aspects of human lives are immediate revelations of God. Deification however, is not static, but an ongoing growth into this most intimate communion between God and humans. This is a deifying communion which leads to a transfigured cosmos constituted by ecstatic love.

[…]With the fall of humanity, and thus cosmic tragedy, humanity moves from philadelphia, the love of humankind, to philatuia or self love. This self-love is not simply loving oneself. It is essentially construing the cosmos as revolving around the self rather than the Trinity. As such self-love disrupts the hierarchy of being which is constituted by love (particularly participation in Triune Love). It disrupts the entire cosmos, which was characterized most accurately by love. This disruption results in the fragmentation of human relationships and this fragmentation from philautia gives rise to what Maximus calls “tyranny” (turranos). Maximus characterizes self-love in this way for philautia seeks to order all creation toward our possession. The true doctrine of creation, however, in which creatures are ordered and harmonized around the love in and of the Trinity is replaced by the tyrannical gaze of self-love in which creation and others become viewed through the possessing desire of the individual, and ultimately this grows into systemic evils such as racism. Once the true doctrine of creation is lost humans tend to see themselves as masters of creation, and thus masters over one another, rather than stewards of creation in which relationships are understood as God’s gift to be cherished and stewarded in harmony with the Trinity rather than controlled for selfish ends.6
Maximus claims that being formed in the virtues is the way in which the Spirit unites the human to Christ and thus deifies humans. So I argue in the next section that the virtue of hospitality, while not covered often explicitly by Maximus, is one of the avenues of virtue that, through our practice of it, allows us as humans to be deified by the Spirit through Christ. It is in welcoming the other that we welcome Christ and thus return to the life of love (phila-delphia) rather than tyranny, which arises from self-love’s “fortress mentality” with its desire to possess and bring everything thing within its orbit rather than living out a true doctrine of Creation which places the self and all things within the orbit of the Love of God. However, I will first briefly highlight Maximus’ understanding of virtue, the participation of the human in Christ, and thus the divinizing life.”

Read more from

St. Maximus Confessor and Christian Hospitality II

at The Land of Unlikeness

“Look at deified man to understand nature”

by Andrea Elizabeth

To continue with writings on Natural Law, this is from the Ochlophobist’s recent post:

Problems arise when we attempt a natural law in which we look at corruptible nature as we generally see it around us, and from this data attempt to discern things regarding God, salvation, and man’s right place in the cosmos. Such is what virtually all modern natural theologies attempt to do. Corruption then inevitably becomes deified in some fashion. Instead of looking at corrupted nature to understand man, we should look at deified man in order to understand nature. When we look from this perspective, from the vantage point of the revelation of the God-Man, nature may become for us the “second Gospel” of which some of the Fathers and Elders speak. When we follow the cosmological hierarchy which God has established, and deified man is the lens through which we view creation, all of creation is lit up with the presence and holiness of God. When man is first transfigured, all of creation is then aflame with divinity.

This thought combined with the recent post on Energetic Procession about God being all in all tend to a universal, cosmological view. I think I’ll comment over on EP instead.

Nineveh was a great city before God, of about a three-day journey

by Andrea Elizabeth

Jonah 3:3

more from Ad Thalassium 64

Permit us to fill in this gap with a few observations. We must assume that the thee-day journey signifies the three different ways of the godly life, or in other words, the discipline proper to each of the three universal laws. By universal laws here I mean the natural law, the scriptural law, and the law of grace. For each of these laws has a peculiar mode of life and appropriate course of action, since each generates a different disposition of the will for those who follow it.

Maximus explains that the Natural Law “prevents the senses from overpowering reason” in how we treat others, typified by Christ’s teaching, Whatever you desire for men to do to you, do likewise to them (Mt. 7:12, Lk 6:31). Maximus says that this law provides a type of unity among people who overcome their selfishness.

The second law, the Scriptural Law, “curbs the unruly urges of the more foolish by the fear of punishment, and trains them to look only for equitable distribution… of justice” which slowly turns the fear (of punishment) into a disposition  [of] “deliberate willing of the good.” This will eventually engender a love of others, and a desire for mutual loving unity with them. “The law of nature consists in natural reason assuming control of the senses, while the scriptural law, or the fulfillment of the scriptural law, consists in the natural reason acquiring a spiritual desire conducive to a relation of mutuality with others of teh same human nature. Therefore the Lord himself specifically says, Love your neighbor as yourself (Lev 19:18, Mt 5:43; 19:19; 22:39; Mk 12:31) and not Regard your neighbor as yourself. The one indicates only the connatural sharing in being, while the other signifies the providence leading us toward well-being.

So he’s saying natural law leads to fairness, but Scriptural law leads to love of those like us.

The third law is the Law of Grace, which “teaches those who follow it directly to imitate God himself, who… loves us, his virtual enemies because of sin, more than himself, such that, even though he himself transcends every essence and nature, he consented to enter our human essence without undergoing change, and while retaining his transcendence, to become a man and willingly to interact as one among men. He did not refuse to take our condemnation on himself, and indeed, the more he himself became a man by nature in his incarnation, the more he deified us by grace, so that we would not only learn naturally to care for one another and spiritually to love others as ourselves, but also like God to be concerned for others more than forourselves, even to the point of proving that love to others by being ready to die voluntarily and virtuously for others. For as the Lord said, There is no greater love than this, that a man lay down his life for his friend (Jn 15:13).

…The law of grace consists in a supernatural reason, and transforms nature, without violating it, unto deification. It also displays, beyond comprehension, the supernatural and superessential Archetype in human nature, as in an image, and exhibits the permanence of eteranal well-being. 

…For the entire orderly arrangement of the Church (indeed the individual human soul) is encompassed in these three laws, having its length defined in virtue, its width in knowledge, and its depth in the wisdom of mystical theology. [notes: This triad of virtue, knowledge, and mystical theology evokes the three dimensions of the spiritual life – ascetic practice, contemplation, and mystical theology – which Maximus appropriated from Evagrius and expounded abundantly in his spiritual writings.] 

The Victorious Grace-filled Human Nature, Church or Soul: the more than Twelve Myriads of Men

by Andrea Elizabeth

who do not know their right hand from their left

cont from Thalassium 64

He represents as well the Church of the Gentiles, which, like Nineveh has turned to God amid numerous tribulations, dangers, adversities, sufferings, persecutions, and deaths…which by no means [is] completely destroyed. For there is nothing in creation capable of impeding the advance of the grace proclaimed evangelically to the gentiles: neither tribulation nor distress nor persecution nor famine nor danger nor sword (Romans 8:35). On the contrary, grace was confirmed by these very circumstances and subdued everything which arose against it…and turned our errant nature toward the true and living God, just as Jonah turned Nineveh toward Him. Even if the evil one appears to conceal grace amid the torrent of persecution, as the whale concealed the prophet Jonah, he was nevertheless unable ultimately to hold grace in check, and remains unable to alter the strength of God’s ability to activate his grace.

…For as long as we live we are constantly being consigned to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made manifest in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life is at work in you (2 Cor 4: 12)…  For the prophetic grace toward the Gentiles is commended both as a gift of God…and as God’s labor: God’s gift since it bestows the light of true knowledge, and it furnishes an incorruptible life for those who receive it; God’s labor because it convinces its servants to take pride in their own labors on behalf of truth, and teaches those who are too anxious about their life in the flesh to extend themselves more through suffering than through remission of suffering. To such as these grace makes the natural weakness of the flesh in the face of suffering the basis of a transcendent spiritual power. 

So too it prepares them completely to renounce their former evil ways and, from the least to the greatest of them (Jon 3:5), to (later: fast and) don sackcloth (meaning, that is, to pursue earnestly the mortification of the passions)… propitiating with humility him who is able to grant forgiveness of their former ways, and asking him who readily bestows on those who ask, the realization of morally superior pursuits and the preservation of the power of free choice in a morally immutable state.

Twelve can mean the five senses plus the seven days of the week, in other words time and nature, or more precisely the knowledge that cannot comprehend visible nature apart from those principles. The more than twelve myriads are the Church, those who namely in their virtue and knowledge have gone beyond the principles of time and nature and passed over to the magnificence of eternal and noetic realities. For whoever, by reason of his genuine virtue, forgets the passions of the flesh on his “left”, and who because of his impeccable knowledge, does not succumb to the disease of a growing conceit over his accomplishments on his “right”, becomes a man who does not know his right hand (or does not, as it were, long for fleeting glory) or his left hand (or is not, as it were, roused by carnal passions). 

Death, Burial and Resurrection

by Andrea Elizabeth

Ad Thalassium 64

Background on the Scripture, in which more than twelve myriads of men dwell, who do not know their right hand from their left. (Jonah 4:11)

The prophet Jonah therefore signifies Adam, or our shared human nature, by bearing in himself mystically a figure of the following. Human nature has slipped from divine benefits, as from Joppa, and has descended, as though into a sea, into the misery of the present life, and been plunged into the chaotic and roaring waters of attachment to material objects. It has been swallowed whole by the whale, that spiritual and insatiable beast the devil himself. It has been enveloped with water all around it, the water of temptations to evil, up to the soul, in the sense that human life has been submerged with temptations. So to our nature has been engulfed in the deepest abyss, that is to say, it has been imprisoned by the complete ignorance of the mind and the overwhelming of rational thinking by the sheer pressure of vice. Our nature’s head has sunk into the clefts of the mountains in the sense that its primary principle of unity by faith vis-a-vis the Monad is like the head of the entire body of the virtues, which has become confined within the machinations of the wicked powers, as in the dark clefts of mountains and been dashed into a multiplicity of errant beliefs and illusions. For the Scriptural text calls clefts of mountains the delusional designs of the spirits of wickedness who hover in the depths of the deepest abyss of ignorance. Human nature has descended into the earth, whose bars are its eternal constraints, that is, it has fallen into a virtual desert of all divine sensibility, where its disposition has been deprived of the vital activity of virtue, and where it has no sense at all of goodness or any active desire of the mind for God… Like eternal bars, human nature has ingrained proclivities toward material objects which keep the mind from being freed from the darkness of ignorance to behold the light of true knowledge.

…His being swallowed by the whale and his impassible submission for three days and three nights indicates the mystery of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection (Matt 12:40). Thus his name can fittingly be translated “repose of God”, “healing from God”, “God’s grace to them.” And perhaps he is rightly called “labor of God” because of his voluntary suffering. For by his own actions the prophet mystically prefigures the authentic “repose” of those who have labored amid physical pain, the “healing” of those who have been broken, the “grace” of the forgiveness of sins – our God Jesus Christ. For our Lord and God himself became a man and entered into the sea of life like ours, insofar as he descended from the heaven of Joppa (translated “contemplation of joy”) into the ocean of this life. As Scripture says, he is the one who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame (Heb 12:2). He even descended willingly into the heart of the earth, where the evil one had swallowed us through death, and drew us up by his resurrection, leading our whole captive nature up to heaven. Truly he is our “repose”, our “healing”, our “grace”: our repose since, with his timely human life, he freed the law from the situation of its carnal bondage; our healing since, by his resurrection, he cured us of the destruction wrought by death and corruption; our grace insofar as he distributes adoption in the Spirit by our God and Father through faith, and the grace of deification to each who is worthy. For it was necessary, necessary in truth, for him to become the light unto that earth (cf Jonah 1:9), to be the power of our God and Father (cf 1Cor 1:18) in the earth with its abiding darkness and eternal bars, so that, having dispelled the darkness of ignorance – being the Father’s light, as it were – and having crushed the bars of evil insofar as he is the concrete power of God, he might wondrously liberate human nature from its bondage to these things under the evil one, and endow it with the inextinguishable light of true knowledge and the indefatigable power of the virtues.

How to get there from here?

by Andrea Elizabeth

Ad Thalassium 61 addresses the question of what happens to the disobedient, the impious and the sinner.

St. Maximus begins his answer by stating that man originally was impassible in having a “spiritual capacity for pleasure, a pleasure whereby human beings would be able to enjoy God ineffably.” But the fall made him subject to the addictive, irrational cycle of sensual pleasure and pain, subject to his fallen passions which result in death. He states that this cycle is perpetuated by humans being born through sensual pleasure and the resultant pain, suffering, and death. To abolish this cycle, Christ had to be born purely of a virgin so that his suffering would not be justified.

“And in order for suffering human nature to be set right, it was necessary for an unjust and likewise uncaused suffering and death to be conceived- a death “unjust” in the sense that it by no means followed a life given to passions, and “uncaused” in the sense that it was in no way preceded by pleasure…. For this reason, the Logos of God, who is fully divine by nature, became fully human, being composed just like us of an intellectual soul and a passible body, save only without sin (Heb 4:15).

“For the Lord exerted manifest strength of tanscendent power by inaugurating for human nature a birth unchanged by the contrary realities (of pleasure and pain) which he himself experienced. For having given our human nature impassibility through his Passion, remission through his toils, and eternal life through his death, he restored that nature again, renewing the habitudes of human nature by his own deprivations in the flesh and granting to human nature through his own incarnation the supernatural grace of deification.”

St. Maximus then describes at length how suffering and death were “converted” by Christ to being instruments and tools to defeat sin. As we nail our sinful passions through deprivation of pleasure, we obtain life in Christ. This is possible for “all who in the Spirit are willingly reborn of Christ with the bath of regeneration (Titus 3:5) [and] are able by grace to put off their original Adamic birth based on pleasure. By keeping the gospel commandments they preserve the baptismal grace of sinlessness and the unabated and immaculate power of mystical adoption in the Spirit…. the baptized acquires the use of death to condemn sin, which in turn mystically leads that person to divine and unending life.” Thus death can no longer destroy human nature, but is a means to destroy sin and “realize righteousness through faith in Christ.”

It is interesting to me that St. Maximus describes the end of the righteous and the impious who “like me transgresses the gospel commandments” as not being in a local or place, but either ending in Christ,

“not in a status of where at all, having by grace received God himself as his status instead of a local where… For God does not admit of where; he is unqualifiedly beyond all where.” [But] “whoever does not share in the power of well-being in relation to God will be like a body part utterly bereft of the soul’s vital energy….For where will one who is unable to receive the effective presence of God in a state of well-being appear after having endured exclusion from the divine life, a life transcending aeon, time, and place?…we can say that he will by no means be free of a life constrained within limits, since he will not enjoy that life which fully defies limitation and is beyond any location… there is no where for him to appear, since he does not enjoy God as sustaining his life unto well-being. Either way, how will he exist when he does not have God as his location itself, the only sure foundation of well-being, which is in God?”

In this chapter, St. Maximus beautifully unites the functions of faith, works, and grace as our means of participation in life in Christ.

On the Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ Pt 3

by Andrea Elizabeth

cont from Ad Thallasium 60

“The Scriptural Word knows of two kinds of knowledge of divine things. On the one hand, there is relative knowledge, rooted only in reason and ideas, and lacking in the kind of experiential perception of what one knows through active engagement; such relative knowledge is what we use to orderour affairs in our present life. On the other hand, there is that truly authentic knowledge, gained only by actual experience, apart from reason and ideas, which provides a total perception of the known object through a participation by grace. By this latter knowledge, we attin, in the future state, the supernatural deification that remains unceasingly in effect. They say that the relative knowledge based on reason and ideas can motivate our desire for the participative knowledge acquired by active engagement. They say, moreover, that htis active experiential knowledge which, by participation, furnishes the direct perception of the object known, can supplant the relative knowledge based on reason and ideas.

For the sages say that it is impossible for rational knowledge of God to coexist with the direct experience of God, or for conceptual knowledge of God to coexist with immediate perception of God…. This may very well be wha the great Apostle is secretly teaching when he says, As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will disappear (1 Cor 13:8). Clearly he is referring here to that knowledge which is found in reason and ideas.

This mystery was known solely to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit before all the ages. It was known to the Father by his approval, to the Son by his carrying it out, and to the Holy Spirit because they also share one esence and power. The Father and Spirit were not ignorant of the Incarnation of th eson because the whole Father is by essence in the whole Son who himself carried out the mystery of our salvation through his incarnation. The Father himself did not become incarnate but rather approved the incarnation of the Son. Moreover, the whole Holy Spirit existis by essence in the whole Son, but he too did not become incarnate but rather cooperated in the Son’s ineffable incarnation for our sake.

…For truly he who is the Creator of the essence of created beings by nature had also to become the very Author of the deification of creatures by grace, in the gracious Giver of eternal being might appear also as gracious Giver of eternal well being… And in the future he will by grace confer on those created beings the knowledge of what they themselves and other beings are in essence, and manifest the principles of their origin which preexist uniformly in him.

…For it is impossible to be completely coexistent with Christ, just as it is furthermore impossible ever to depart from him entirely, since the termination of time is fixed within Christ, as is the stability of mobile created beings, a stability wherein no created being will know any change at all.”

Therefore rational knowlege has it’s place, to make us hungry for experiential knowledge. One must be balanced in learning and praying as in all aspects of life.

I believe I’ll quit quoting such large sections of this book and leave the rest for Saint Vladimir’s Press to distribute.

On the Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ Pt. 2

by Andrea Elizabeth

cont. from the same chapter,

“Because of Christ-or rather, the whole mystery of Christ-all the ages of time and the beings within those ages have received their beginning and end in Christ. Fr the union between a limit of the ages and limitlessness, between measure and immeasurability, between finitude and infinity, between Creator and creation, between resta nd motion, was conceived before the ages. This union has been manifested in Christ at the end of time, and in itself brings God’s foreknowledge to fulfillment, in order that naturally mobile creatures might secure themselves around God’s total and essential immobility, desisting altogether from their movement toward themselves and toward each other.”

[notes say: “Maximus here refers to the absolute stability which is the goal of all creaturely movement, a notion which he elsewhere (Amb 7) directed against the Origenist cosmology in which true stasis is that original, primordial, spiritual unity, prior to the fall of intellectual beings, to which all creatures are called, amid the instability of history, in a final and complete restoration, literally, the “recovery of stasis.” For Maximus, however, the final end of creaturely movement is an unprecedented new rest in the Divine at the end of the cosmic story, that stability “around the Divine” or around God’s immobility, which brings everything to sabbatical completion. Maximus is sympathetic to Gregory of Nyssa’s image of this ultimate “repose” as secured precisely in “perpetual striving”, an eternal purposive movement around the God whose essence remains impenetrable. On the philosophical and theological ramifications of this notion, see Paul M. Blowers, “Maximus the Confessor, Gregory of Nyssa, and the Concept of ‘Perpetual Progress,'” pp 151-71. On the ascetic implications of this notion, see Ad Thalassium 17)” here and here]

“The union has been manifested so that they might also acquire, by experience, an active knowledge of him in whom they were made worthy to find their stability and to have abiding unchangeably in them the enjoyment of this knowledge.”

It seems to me that the above Ad Thalassium 17 passage is referring to our struggle before entering the rest.

On the Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ Pt. 1

by Andrea Elizabeth

This chapter on Ad Thalassium 69 bears the title of this book of St. Maximus’ writings,

Q. …of Christ, as of a pure and spotless lamb, who was foreknown before the foundation of the world, yet manifested at the end of time for our sake (1 Pet 1:20). By whom was Christ foreknown?

R. The scriptural text calls the mystery of Christ “Christ”. The great Apostle clearly testifies to this when he speaks of the mystery hidden from the ages, having now been manifested (Col 1:26). He is of course referring to Christ the whole mystery of Christ, which is, manifestly, the ineffable and incomprehensible hypostatic union between Christ’s divinity and humanity. This union draws his humanity into perfect identity, in every way, with his divinity, through the principle of person; it is a union that realizes one person composite of both natures, inasmuch as it in no way diminishes the essential difference between the two natures. And so, to repeat, there is one hypostasis realized from teh two natures and the difference between the natures remains immutable. In view of this difference moreover, the natures remain undiminished, and the quantity of each of the united natures is preserved, even after the union.

…With a clear view to this end, God created the essences of created beings, and such is, proplerly speaking, the terminus of his providence and of the things under his providential care. Inasmuch as it leads to God, it is the recapitulation of the things he has created. It is the mystery which circumscribes all the ages, and which reveals the grand plan of God (Eph 1:10-11), a super-infinite plan infinitely preexisting the ages. The Logos, by essence of God, became a messenger of this plan (Is 9:5 LXX) when he became a man and, if I may rightly say so, established himself as the innermost depth of the Father’s goodness while also displaying in himself the very goal of which his creatures manifestly received the beginning of their existence.